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BEST Backpacking in Washington State: 13 Amazing Trips

With so many trails in Washington, it’s easy to wonder which ones offer the best backpacking.

I live between the Olympic and the Cascade ranges, and I’ve spent countless hours on the trails here and even more time planning and researching trips.

In this article, I’ve selected thirteen trips that feature the best backpacking in Washington State, all in different regions, from the Olympic Peninsula to the Central and North Cascades to Mount Rainier. 

Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker or a beginner eager for your first adventure, these trails promise an unforgettable experience packed with stunning scenery, opportunities for wildlife sightings, and that unbeatable feeling of being immersed in nature. 

Let’s get into it! 

Quick Guide: Best Backpacking Trails

  • Best Beginner Backpacking Trails: Tuck and Robin Lakes, but stopping at Hyas Lake 
  • Best Year-Round: Hoh River Trail
  • Best for Groups w/ Children: Second Beach
  • Best for Wildflowers: Cascade Pass & Sahale Arm
  • Best Wildlife Viewing: Enchanted Valley 
  • Best Multi-Day: Copper Ridge Loop

13 Best Washington Backpacking Trips  

This guide features backpacking trips in Olympic National Park and one spectacular must-do trip in Olympic National Forest, exposing you to ecosystems ranging from craggy coastlines to rainforests, valleys, and glaciers.

Also featured here are the best trips available in the Central and North Cascades and at Mount Rainier National Park. These trails are known for their alpine meadows, pristine lakes, and otherworldly granite landscapes.

Olympic National Park 

1. Second Beach

  • Distance: 5 miles  
  • Elevation: 300 feet  
  • Difficulty: Easy  
  • Permit: ONP Wilderness Permit

Second Beach on the Pacific Coast is my favorite beach in Olympic National Park. 

Second Beach– Photo credit:  David Izquierdo on Unsplash

Dramatic coastline cliffs, stunning sea stacks, excellent tide-pooling, and a wildlife refuge off its shores make this La Push beach worth exploring. 

Camping here allows you to experience low tide at both ends of the beach without rushing. 

The short hike from the trailhead makes this an excellent trail for beginners and families with young children.

At the north end, near the natural arch, there’s another smaller, stunning beach accessible at low tide. This end is where most people take photos and near where most set up camp.

I recommend walking south and choosing a site away from the crowds. 

On the south end are some of the best beach campsites in the entire state. The beach widens considerably, so there’s little risk of the tide encroaching on your tent. 

2. Shi Shi Beach

  • Distance: 9 miles  
  • Elevation: 200 feet  
  • Difficulty: Moderate  
  • Permit: ONP Wilderness permit
Shi Shi Beach- Photo credit:  D. Lok on Unsplash

Point of Arches on Shi Shi Beach offers the best coastline scenery in Olympic National Park. This configuration of over thirty incredible sea stacks is older than any others on the Olympic Peninsula. 

The mileage and elevation gain on this trip are relatively easy. It’s roughly 4.5 miles to get to Point of Arches from the trailhead, traveling through the forest and across Shi Shi Beach. But you must hike through a relentless section of mud, even in August. 

This is one of the park’s busiest destinations for beach camping, so don’t come here expecting solitude.

You can camp near Point of Arches, giving you a great home base to explore the incredible rock formations here. At low tide, or better yet, a minus tide, explore acres of tide pools filled with colorful sea stars, anemones, and other marine life.

3. Hoh River Trail

  • Distance: 10.6 – 37 miles  
  • Elevation: 367 – 5000 feet  
  • Difficulty: Moderate – Hard  
  • Permit: Wilderness permit

On the Hoh River Trail, you’ll hike through a delightful rainforest filled with moss-draped trees along the river, through subalpine meadows, and, if you go the entire distance of this backpacking trip, you’ll eventually reach Blue Glacier. 

You don’t have to backpack the entire trail because there are three camps to choose from before reaching Glacier Meadows Camp at the end. 

This trail is one of Olympic National Park’s best destinations, showcasing giant trees, river and valley views, and the incredible Cougar Creek cedar grove. You may even cross paths with a herd of the park’s Roosevelt elk. 

The crowning glory of this backpacking trip is seeing incredible views of the Blue Glacier stretching down from Mount Olympus, the tallest peak in the Olympics. 

This is a fantastic destination for winter backpacking trips because snow usually doesn’t cover the first roughly 12 miles. 

4. Enchanted Valley

  • Distance: 27.8 miles  
  • Elevation: 3700 feet  
  • Difficulty: Hard  
  • Permit: Wilderness permit
Enchanted Valley Chalet in Washington- a world-class backpacking
Enchanted Valley Chalet – from Wikipedia

Backpacking the Enchanted Valley is a journey along a river, through a lush rainforest filled with ancient trees, into an open valley inhabited by wildlife surrounded by majestic mountains. 

It’s a world-class backpacking trip into Olympic National Park’s “Valley of 10,000 Waterfalls.”

While the moniker may be an exaggeration, you’ll see why it’s an apt description once you reach the old Enchanted Valley chalet. To witness numerous waterfalls cascading down valley walls is simply spectacular. Do this trip in spring for the best waterfall experience. 

With this place being so beautiful, the word is out. So expect to see plenty of other groups on the trail. 

Note that at 12.7 miles, before arriving at the valley, you must cross a high, narrow bridge that will likely test your nerves and balance.

After setting up camp, continue hiking up the valley for two miles to see the largest Western Hemlock tree in the world.

5. High Divide Loop

  • Distance: 19.1 miles
  • Elevation: 4175 feet 
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Permit: Wilderness permit
High Divide Washington
High Divide – from Flickr

This is the hike to do if you’re looking for the most stunning scenery in the Olympic Mountains. 

You’ll hike past Sol Duc Falls and serene Deer Lake, ascend a high ridge with expansive views spanning rainforest valleys, and revel in the sight of the Olympic Peninsula’s highest peak, Mount Olympus.

The High Divide’s incredible ridgeline vistas, alpine lakes, and gorgeous meadows are no secret. Be diligent about securing your permit.  

Plan for more than one night for this backpacking trip. Once you reach Seven Lakes Basin, you’ll want to stay awhile to explore. 

Snow can linger on the hike from Seven Lakes Basin to the High Divide, and if so, the route is much more difficult, if not dangerous. Read trip reports in advance. 

Bring bear spray on this hike. Bears will likely ignore you, but you’ll be happy to have it.

Olympic Peninsula

6. Marmot Pass

If the Buckhorn Wilderness isn’t on your radar, it should be. 

You’ll start your trip by hiking through gorgeous old-growth forest while the Big Quilcene River cascades alongside the trail. The climbing is steep, but there are flat areas to pull over, eat, and rest. 

Fill up on water at Camp Mystery. Beyond this point, there’s no water source, making a compelling case for camping here. 

But if it’s not too windy and you want to wake up to some of the best mountain vistas in the Olympic National Forest, continue to Marmot Pass. 

The weather for our trip started with cloud cover, but they parted when we arrived at Marmot Pass. We sat and watched incredulously as the clouds moved across the mountains, exposing the ridges surrounding us.

As the trail’s name suggests, you’ll hear marmots and probably see a few. 

Once you set up camp, you can continue your adventure. Options include summiting Buckhorn Mountain or taking a dip in Buckhorn Lake.

North Cascades National Park

7. Cascade Pass & Sahale Arm

Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm
Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm – from Flickr

There aren’t enough superlatives to capture just how spectacular of a trail this one is. 

Given the choice of when to do this trip, I’d pick late summer every time. In September, fall colors begin to pop, blazing the landscape surrounding you while cool, blue hues of jagged alpine peaks form a magnificent backdrop. 

The ridgeline of Sahale Arm offers incredible views in every direction. The meadow here, filled with mountain heather, glows a remarkable shade of crimson in the fall. 

Despite the amount of switchbacks on the ascent, it’s the most popular day hike in the North Cascades. Naturally, backcountry permits are at a premium.

Sahale Glacier Camp is the most competitive permit to secure, but other campsites are available.

The push to reach Sahale Glacier Camp is hard climbing. Once you arrive, the high alpine scenery of the mountains around you makes it all worth it. 

8. Copper Ridge Lookout

  • Distance: 20.4 – 34 miles
  • Elevation: 6200 – 8600 feet 
  • Difficulty: Hard 
  • Permit: Backcountry Permit

This is the trip to take for views of the most northern peaks of North Cascades National Park. You’ll experience all that makes these mountains worth visiting: a pretty glacier-sculpted valley, jagged mountain peaks, and some of the finest backcountry alpine views.

You can do this trip as an out-and-back to the Copper Ridge Lookout. If you have more time, do the 34-mile Copper Ridge Loop, on which you must cross a river in a self-propelled cable car. 

Early on, you have the option to detour and climb Hannegan Peak. Without a doubt, the views make it worth doing.

But the best views are yet to come at the fire lookout. Surrounded by high mountain ridges, you remember why all the tough climbing is worth it.  

Note that this trail is buggy. Bring your headnet along with gloves for the cable car crossing.

Cascade Range

9. Enchantments

Backpacking in Enchantments Washington is one of the best!
Photo credit: David Merrick on Unsplash

I’ve read trip reports of hikers calling this the most overrated trail in Washington. Do not listen to them. The fairy-tale-like beauty of this alpine terrain is mindblowing.  

Set within the Stuart Range, the Enchantments Lakes basin features an otherworldly granite landscape with jagged peaks and bowls lined with snowfields, even in summer, pristine lakes, mountain goats, and larches that turn a brilliant yellow-gold in fall. 

Backpacking in one of the five Enchantment zones in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness requires a permit granted by a highly competitive lottery system.

Permits for the Core Enchantment zone are the most coveted. In 2022, a whopping 26,988 applications were submitted, while only 2,920 total backpackers got the opportunity to stay overnight in this famed backcountry.

With a place this magical, it’s still worth entering the lottery year after year in case you get lucky. 

You have better odds applying for the Stuart zone, allowing you to day hike to the core.

10. Tuck and Robin Lakes

  • Distance: 12.7 miles
  • Elevation:  3400 feet
  • Difficulty: Hard 
  • Permit: None 

Located near the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, the scenery on the Tuck and Robin Lakes trail is similar to the Enchantments, but there are no permits to secure. The trade-off is that it’s a busy trail on summer weekends. 

The first section to Hyas Lake is relatively easy, especially considering what comes later. It’s a perfect backpacking trip for beginners and families.

The ascent begins once you push past Little Hyas Lake at about 3.5 miles in. Once you reach Tuck Lake, take a well-deserved break and enjoy the alpine views. 

It may be tempting to set up camp here. But pushing that extra 1.5 miles to camp at Robin Lakes is worth it. 

Be prepared for some scrambling and route-finding.

The breathtaking granite views around Robin Lakes are your reward for enduring such an arduous climb. On a clear day, you’ll see Washington volcanoes in the distance.  

11. Gothic Basin

For the experienced hiker, the elevation gain on this trail may not seem like much. The light scrambling required makes this hike harder than it seems just looking at the numbers.

Miners blazed the trail leading to Gothic Basin, a name that belies the joy and delight this landscape elicits when its meadows and wildflowers are in bloom. Today, the state’s Department of Natural Resources manages this conservation area to protect its fragile ecosystem. 

Set up camp on established campsites, never on top of meadows or plants. 

Once you’re in the basin, there’s much to explore. Gothic Lake can be viewed from many different areas, but remember to walk on rock as best as possible. 

Continuing to Foggy Lake is a must. Follow the cairns to get there. There are no trees, only sparkling blue water surrounded by rock and Del Campo Peak. 

I highly recommend jumping in on a hot summer day!

12. Mount Margaret

Mount Margaret Backcountry – from Flickr

This backpacking trip to Shovel Lake Camp allows you to travel through the blast zone of Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument in Gifford Pinchot National Forest. 

You’ll see a rugged, once-decimated landscape regenerating with vegetation and wildlife. Young conifer trees, fruit shrubs, and wildflowers now grow, and the scenery is fantastic in fall. 

Start at Boundary Trail 1 and go right to continue to Bear Pass and be rewarded with excellent views of Mount Adams, Mount Rainier, and Mount St Helens.

You can avoid traversing the sketchy Whittier Ridge by approaching this trip as an out-and-back hike rather than a loop. 

There’s little shade or tree cover, so UV protection is essential. Read trip reports regarding water sources and be prepared to carry water. 

Shovel Lake Camp is spectacular. The water is frigid but feels amazing after hiking in the sun. 

Mount Rainier

13. Spray Park Loop 

  • Distance: 16 miles
  • Elevation: 5100 feet  
  • Difficulty: Hard 
  • Permit: Wilderness Permit
Spray Park- must visit when you are backpacking having an amazing an dwonderful trail
Photo by Peter Robbins on Unsplash

The Wonderland Trail circumnavigating Washington’s most famous volcano is 93 miles, but you won’t be able to hike it unless you win a coveted and highly competitive permit. 

Spray Park Loop offers a fantastic opportunity to experience a section of the Wonderland Trail.

You’ll hike through old-growth forests and meadows dotted with wildflowers, cross rivers and snowfields, see waterfalls and a crystal blue alpine lake, and relish stunning views of Mount Rainier and other peaks. 

Decide if you’ll travel clockwise or counter-clockwise. Either way, you’ll have serious elevation gain to contend with, but going clockwise means you’re not saving the toughest climbing for the very end. 

This trip is beginner-friendly but only for those with navigation and bouldering skills, ready for log crossings over fast-moving water.

Tips for Backpacking in Washington

Below are helpful tips for a successful backpacking adventure.

Second Beach– Photo credit:  David Izquierdo on Unsplash

Secure Backcountry Permits Early

Permits on some of these trails can be hard to come by. Start planning for the next backpacking season in winter.

Head to the Washington Trails Association’s website in January, which lists key dates regarding when the lottery system and reservations open up.  

Avoid Wildfire Smoke

Wildfires now dictate where we can and cannot recreate during the prime backpacking months of July, August, and September. 

All planning during these months is incomplete without a visit to fire.airnow.gov.

You can escape to Olympic National Park’s beaches when wildfires rage across the Cascades.

Stop at Ranger Stations

I highly recommend stopping at the corresponding ranger station before a backpacking adventure to learn about trail conditions and the best place to camp or collect water. 

Rangers are an incredible resource, and I’ve found them generally eager to help. 

Wrap-Up: Best Backpacking in Washington State

I’ve made lifetime memories on these amazing trails, and I hope the same for you.

From the rugged coastline of the Olympic Peninsula to the alpine lakes of the North Cascades, these thirteen exceptional trips showcase the best of Washington’s stunning landscapes.

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